Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

usa-craig-berube-flyers-4.jpg

Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
 
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
 
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
 
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
 
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
 
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
 
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
 
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
 
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
 
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
 
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
 
Well, maybe one small thing.
 
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
 
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
 
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
 
“Yeah,” he said.
 
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
 
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
 
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
 
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
 
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
 
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
 
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
 
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
 
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
 
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
 
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
 
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
 
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
 
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
 
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
 
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
 
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

Ron Hextall, Flyers know what they have in Nolan Patrick

CHICAGO — Ron Hextall had no idea which way New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was leaning.

Would Shero take Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier with his No. 1 pick?

"I asked Ray 10 minutes before he picked and he wouldn't tell me," Hextall said. "I give him credit. That is what he should have done … I didn't have an expectation one way or the other."

Shero wanted a dynamic player to put bodies in the stands at Prudential Center. He chose Hischier.

That made it easy for Hextall at No. 2 to select Patrick (see story).

If rumors were true that Shero was scared off by Patrick's several injuries this past season at Brandon, well, the Flyers weren't.

"What I believe, we gather a lot of information," Hextall said. "There's some stuff out there you want to prove wrong and we did. We're comfortable with the injury part of it. He is a really good young man."

Patrick is a two-way player and a natural center. The Flyers have seven centers right now (see story), including Patrick, who is expected to play now. 

Hextall said he doesn't envision switching Patrick to the wing.

"I would rather have too many centers rather than five wingers on each side and no one to go in the middle," Hextall said.

Interesting that German Rubtsov, last year's top pick for the Flyers, has already been converted to a left winger since coming to North America to play junior.

Will Patrick be a No. 1 center as scouts project?

"Nolan has to answer that," Hextall said. "We see a kid with a big body, extremely high hockey sense, really good skill set. You get drafted today? The work starts now and Nolan has to put the work in.

"This is another level … this is the National Hockey League. In September, he comes to camp. He needs a big summer."

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

Ron Hextall on Flyers' logjam of centers: 'Someone has to play the wing'

CHICAGO – The Flyers already have a familiar problem coming out of this NHL draft and heading training camp next fall: they’re too deep at center.
 
Friday night, they added three centers and traded another.
 
Brayden Schenn was sent to St. Louis for the Blues’ 27th pick in the first round, plus a conditional 2018 first-round pick and veteran utility center Jori Lehtera (see story).
 
General manager Ron Hextall wanted to trade back into the first round late and he did so by tabbing Morgan Frost at No. 27 with that Blues’ pick.
 
NHL Central Scouting had Frost ranked 31st among North American skaters. He is a 6-0, 170-pound forward from Aurora, Ontario.
 
He has raw speed and skill, but scouts say other parts of his game will need time to fill out. Frost had 20 goals and 62 points for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL this past season.
 
Friday’s other first-round pick, Nolan Patrick, is a natural centerman. Patrick is expected to play in the NHL this season. So right now, the Flyers’ centers are Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Mike Vecchione, plus Patrick and now Lehtera.
 
Lehtera had 30 goals and 100 points in 218 games with the Blues. He was both a first- and second-line center for the Blues this past season despite weak numbers — seven goals and 22 points in 64 games.
 
He is a decent playmaker and two-way player, who has centered Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko.
 
“He is utility guy with a well-rounded game and can play in the middle,” Hextall said. “We like the player. Gives coach more options.”
 
Best option: Lehtera can move to left wing if needed.
 
“Someone has to play the wing,” Hextall said. “He can play the wing. Our scouts have seen him play the wing, but he plays center most games. I am assuming he prefers center like most of them. Someone has to play wing.”
 
Schenn had improved every year he was with the Flyers, but too much of his scoring is on the power play and not five-on-five. He had 109 goals and 246 points in 424 career games for the Flyers.
 
This deal seems strange unless you consider the Flyers got another first-round pick (Frost) and a top-10 protected, conditional first-rounder next year. The Blues have the option to defer the 2018 first-rounder to 2019 but if they do so, the Flyers will also receive the Blues' 2020 third-round pick.
 
“It was a combination,” Hextall said of the advantages’ from the Flyers side. “It was one of those [trades] that came out of nowhere. Not like we were shopping Brayden.
 
“This deal came along and we really like the draft next year. We like the late pick this year and Jori. It made sense and we got a couple more young players.”
 
Young players like Frost, whom the Flyers are excited about.
 
“Our whole staff really liked the guy,” Hextall said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, his No. 1 asset. Really smart. Reads the ice well. He has a very deft touch moving the puck.
 
“Good two-way player who showed up good in the testing. We believe he is a kid with a lot of upside. Good speed, but he dissects the game better than most players.”
 
Frost’s father Andy was the longtime former Toronto Maple Leafs PA announcer.
 
“I talked to them a couple times,” Frost said. “I’d say I had a bit of a gut feeling. I wasn’t too sure, but they took me and I’m super happy about it.
 
“I think first and foremost I’m a playmaker. I think I’m a high-skilled player that likes to use his vision and hockey sense to create plays. I’m working on becoming more of a two-way forward. That’s more of the player I want to become.”